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Hove Champagne Festival

Monday 28 June 2010

“Oh God. I need water”, says my companion as the Friday afternoon sun beats down on us. We’re making the trek to Hove Lawns for the first ever champagne festival, and neither of us is looking forward to spending the afternoon battling through crowds of pissed up sub-aristocrats. Still, our tickets are complimentary (though we are emphatically told, they do not entitle us to anything free), so we smile politely at the stewards and stroll onto the lawn. The VIP bar beckons but, after a brief discussion during which it is noted that the entrance is heavily guarded by a couple of big meanies, we decide to grab some bottled water and go for Nice Sit Down.

The panoramic view is quite something, and it’s a pretty impressive line-up. Lanson and Hotel du Vin hustle for your bubbly business opposite food stands for Riddle and Finn’s and Sam’s of Brighton. Next door, the ‘tasting theatres’ – where, presumably, even the spit buckets are worth a few quid – are full, and all this takes place to a soundtrack of husky jazz singer Aviva Steinburg and Lady GaGa tribute act Lady Blah Blah.

The celebrity spotting begins when we see Christopher Ellison, best known as D.I Burnside in ‘The Bill’, and more recently of ‘Come Dine With Me’ fame. There’s also reported sightings of Right Said Fred and Brigitte Nielsen, though we really get our knickers in a twist when there’s talk of Michelle ‘the legend’ Collins, aka Cindy Beale off Eastenders. The hordes of rah’s we had anticipated are nowhere to be seen, thank God. Instead there’s quite a mix of young and old, and no one seems to be drunk and irate yet. There is, of course, the obligatory group of public school rugger boys making whoopee a couple of tables away, but they don’t appear to be disturbing anyone. All in all, there’s a pleasant, gentle atmosphere…

Daring to eat an oyster...

…but we are foolishly lulling ourselves into a false sense of security as we are approached by the lovely Alex, of Riddle and Finns champagne and oyster bar, bearing the most terrifying plate stacked high with juicy oysters. They’re only a quid, and seeing as I’m probably not going to serve in Iraq, eating this oyster will undoubtedly be the biggest test of my manhood to date. And actually it’s the best oyster I’ve ever had in my life. It’s also the only oyster I’ve ever had in my life, so I’ll endeavour to keep SPINDLE updated on my adventures in the oyster trade.

After a couple of hours we are able to collar one of the masterminds of the event for a brief chat. “I’m quite amazed at how flawless it’s all been”, he says, and we certainly understand his relief as he explains that “The show is unique – it’s the first time fifty different brands have come together in one place”. Quite an endeavour, then, we agree before he asks what could be done to improve things for next year. “Cheese”, we all decide, “free cheese samples would really give this event the edge”. He smiles politely and points out that J.R Watkins – purveyor of fine cheese and sausages to the royal family – has a stall fifty feet away.

Well, that showed us. We congratulate our host as he scurries off to the storeroom to source some champers for a mystery celebrity guest – we cross our fingers for Meryl Streep, but it’s probably Patsy Palmer. Either way, we nod appreciatively and wonder off to get some cheese, promising to be back next year.

Words: Thomas Dearnley-Davison

Photography: Lily Brown